Baseball: Past and Present

Claim to fame: I’ll preface this by saying I was planning to write a column on Sean Forman before he bailed me out of a jam this morning. I signed up about a month ago for a free 30-day trial of the Play Index, a nifty tool on Forman’s website Baseball-Reference.com that allows for the kind of searches that used to take me hours. Want to know how many players in baseball history have at least 500 home runs and an OPS+ of 140? A quick Play Index search shows there to be 19.

My free trial expired on Sunday, and I put up $36 that evening for a year-long subscription. By some glitch in the Baseball-Reference.com system, though, perhaps a quirk of PayPal, my order was delayed for a few days during which time I couldn’t see the results of my P-I searches. I already don’t want to fathom writing regularly about baseball history without the index, so I sent an email to Baseball-Reference.com this morning, and they fixed the glitch within an hour or so.

Such is the power of the most important baseball website ever. I’ll go a step further and say that I think Forman’s the most influential person in baseball research today. He’s a modern version of Henry Chadwick, a 19th century statistician who invented the box score, batting average, and earned run average among other things. If Chadwick can have a place in the Hall of Fame, I’d augur for an eventual spot for Forman as well.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Chadwick has had a plaque in the Executives & Pioneers section of Cooperstown since 1938. At quick glance, he might be the only statistician enshrined, even if modern godfather of statistics Bill James is sorely overdue. That’s a story for another time, though James’ case and Forman’s as well could reasonably come before the Veterans Committee in the next decade or so.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Some may sooner call James the most important baseball researcher today. But James has slowed in recent years, and while I respect his scholarship, he remains a highly polarizing figure. Some people zealously defend his work. Others have little use for it. Forman, meanwhile, continues to refine a website that appeals to analysts and traditionalists alike and draws several hundred thousand people a month. Just past his 40th birthday, Forman’s hopefully just getting started.

Consider how far baseball research online has come since Forman launched Baseball-Reference.com in 2000. A former college mathematics professor, he created his site after being unable to find stats for the likes of Ty Cobb on the Internet. By 2007, B-R was up to pages for all 17,000 players in MLB history, as well as 40,000 pages of Wikipedia-style content and 98,000 pages of box scores. Forman told SI.com that year:

I haven’t necessarily found all the data. The people at Retrosheet and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), they just do incredible work. I often say that I’m just putting a friendly face on the things that they’re doing. I certainly can’t take credit for getting the data in the raw format. But one of the things that I think the site does well is make this data easy to find. That’s always been a goal of mine, is to make things as quick and easy as possible.

I love that attitude, and at a time where people who’ve devised metrics like Wins Above Replacement are taking heat for a lack of transparency, I respect what Forman’s doing. More than that, I try to follow his example here.

End of day, I can only speak for myself, a blogger with no idea how much worse my work would be without Forman’s influence. Giving his organization $36 was the least I could do, and truth is, Forman’s done more for me than I’ve ever done for him. $36? Heck, I joke that I spend so much time on Baseball-Reference.com I may as well be paying the site rent.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a regular feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie Reynolds, Andy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff Bagwell, Jeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark



3 Comments so far

  1.    David on April 17, 2012 2:25 pm      

    Agreed. Sean should get in. I’d argue for Bill James first, but Sean a close, close second.

  2.    Devon Young on April 17, 2012 3:39 pm      

    I’d welcome Sean Foreman and Bill James into Cooperstown any day. In fact, I think I’d find a way to buy tickets for that induction…even if they’re $1000.

  3.    Adam Darowski on April 18, 2012 3:43 am      

    I’m kind of embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of Sean as a Hall of Famer before. But he has become the de facto custodian of our game’s history. You’re right, he has a long career ahead of him. Just think of what he will have accomplished 20 years from now. I love the idea.

Name (required)

Email (required)

Website

Speak your mind

  • Written by Graham Womack